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Tablets Spring Retail Dot Com Deja Vu


Shopping used to be fun. Or at least considered an outing.

Then along came Google and shopping morphed to searching (34 waist, relaxed fit, 5-pocket, jean, under $35).

Now retailers believe they have found a way to give online shopping more of the feel of an outing at the mall or an hour with a catalog — by creating apps that resemble magazines for tablet computers. Just as magazine publishers are producing iPad apps that mimic print in a way they never could on ordinary Web sites, retailers are making iPad catalogs, with big, stylized photographs that users can flip through on the couch or in bed. And also like magazine publishers, they are adding rich features like video, sound and 3-D views.

The idea is to offer “shop-ertainment,” said Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, a shopping search engine that last week introduced Catalogue, a tablet app that pulls together interactive catalogs from about 30 retailers including Crate & Barrel and Sephora.

Shop-ertainment? C’mon Man! Any attempt to package retailing into something other than what it is – selling & buying – is a mistake. Shop-ertainment is reminiscent of “eye-balls” as a metric during the dot-com boom. I sat through several conversations that went something like this, “Sales and conversions – nice t have but we’re interested in eye-balls (site visitors).” Huh?

If you’re a merchant you have to sell your goods. No amount of smoke and mirrors will suffice. Dollars earned from selling goods are the only true metric of retail. If tablets like the iPad facilitate more online shopping – that’s terrific. Just don’t get hung up on eye-balls or shop-ertainment.

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